Edmund RUBBRA (1901-1986)
Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 45 (1937) [34:28]
Festival Overture, Op. 62 (1947) [7:19]
Symphony No. 7 in C, Op. 88 (1957) [35:59]*
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Vernon Handley; *London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
rec. no information given. ADD
LYRITA SRCD.235 [77:47]
In a recent review, comparing recordings of Rubbra's Fourth Symphony by Norman Del Mar (Lyrita SRCD.202) and Vernon Handley (Carlton Classics 15656 91932), I deemed Del Mar, who projected the score's arching lines with more assurance, the more authoritative and convincing exponent of this composer.
Rehearing the present Handley performances - which, in their U.S. LP edition, turned me on to Rubbra's music in the first place - forces me to temper, if not quite to reverse, that judgment. Where Del Mar painted Rubbra's music in broad strokes as severe, epic canvases, Handley's more nuanced treatment of the orchestral sonority - his greater attention to precision of attack and release, and to timbral blending - reproduces a wider-ranging orchestral palette. This renders the music more easily assimilable. Del Mar's version of Rubbra is "important"; Handley's version, without sacrificing the music's stature, is beautiful and more immediately pleasing.
The composer's use of the woodwinds, singly and as a group, as a contrast to more massive sonorities elsewhere produces some fetching moments in the first of the D major symphony's four movements. These include, notably a liquid, searching passage launched by the flute at 3:58, and the desolate, poignant oboe solo at 9:14. The Scherzo, with constantly changing meters, somehow achieves an easy buoyancy. In the Adagio tranquillo third movement, spacious woodwind chorales moving in opposite directions evoke Sibelius, though the resulting sonorities are warmer and "deeper" than that. The closing Rondo, again using irregular meters, still has a vaguely nautical, "British" rhythmic profile, and maintains its momentum through increasingly heavy, intrusive brass-and-percussion punctuations.
Since Sir Adrian Boult's commercial discography was heavily weighted towards mainstream British repertoire, it's good to have this Seventh Symphony as a document of his work in "newer", if still relatively conservative, music. His atmospheric performance displays a gratifying attention to the expressive potential of color and texture, in place of the laissez-faire attitude of his later studio work.
Expansive string chords, and exploring horn and oboe soli, set a mysterious tone at the start. Anxious, pulsing triplets sneak in, gently propelling the music forward, and playing against the rocking 6/8 motion of the main theme. In the development, which lurches forward a bit, stabbing horn accents intrude into the texture. The faster, scherzando section of the central Vivace e leggiero movement offers short, pointillistic bursts of color; ominous brass interjections are set against lilting, dance-like passages. The more deliberate trio, at first light in texture, grows heavier as the lower brass come to dominate, with a sense of mass continuing into the return of the opening material. The layering of sonorities in the closing Passacaglia e Fuga generates a sort of cautious affirmation, against which a haunting passage for woodwinds at 10:28 stands in sharp relief.
The circumstances surrounding the composition of the Festival Overture are unclear - conductor Handley's booklet note doesn't even mention the piece - but, whether or not it was composed for a specific occasion, it stands firmly in the line of English ceremonial music. It opens with the pompous strut of confident brass; a more fluid, woodwind-dominated second theme and a perky march maintain the strutting rhythmic underpinning, sometimes in the timpani. The climax, with its big brass chords, has a nice grandeur and breadth.
Lyrita's sonics are excellent, as usual. No session dates are provided, but the Handley material carries a publishing date of 1978, the Boult recording that of 1970.
Stephen Francis Vasta
Further review of this disc by Colin Clarke
Handley’s Rubbra: beautiful and more immediately pleasing; Boult: atmospheric with a gratifying attention to the expressive potential of color and texture.